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Blended and Outbound Call Centers Series: Blending Strategies and Service Level Control

This series will explore various aspects of Outbound and Blended Call Centers. While every attempt to give general terms and general examples is being made, the reader should be aware that specifics may be different for every type of call center, business operation or strategic purpose of the center. The articles in this series are meant to be a guideline for those seeking to learn more about Outbound and Blended Call Centers.

Related ICMI Resources:
Blending in the Call Center: Benefits, Barriers and Breakthroughs
ICMI's 2011 Call Center Practices for Pairing and Blending Inbound, Outbound, and Service and Sales Report
Finding Call Center Efficiencies in the Pooling Principle

Blending Strategies and Service Level Control

In the previous article, we discussed how Managing the Client Experience in an outbound/blended call center is different from an inbound center. Here, we will expand on this concept, as it pertains specifically to a blended inbound/outbound call center environment. I will give two examples of typical strategies used to blend inbound with outbound dialing as well as introduce a new Client Experience Metric that should be in the toolbox of any blended center to ensure that client experience is balanced with productivity for the dialer.

The strategies discussed below are not an exhaustive list of potential solutions to blending, rather an attempt to begin the discussion that Operations should be having internally - and with dialer vendors - so as to find the solution that works best for them. Keep in mind that there are several different blending strategies that can be used, and some that are specific to the dialer application.

Strategy 1: Skill-Based Blending

Much like an inbound agent skill-based routing strategy, a blending-based routing strategy is dependent on skill priorities. In an inbound environment, choices are made as to what agent skill-set will have a higher priority. The same is true in a skill-based blended environment, with the small exception that one set of agents have inbound-focused skills and another has outbound. As a result, the dialer will offer calls to agents with greater outbound skills first, and then to agents with a lesser outbound skills, if they are not occupied on inbound calls.

There are some common risks that need to be considered if this choice is made:

  • Workforce management forecasting is essential as inbound call spikes will make it very difficult for the dialer to adjust pacing quickly
  • The immutable law of "twenty minutes for the dialer to adjust predictive dialing becomes even more important because agents who were previously available for outbound calls could quickly be taken away to react to an inbound call
  • Even though many dialer vendors have attempted to provide answers to this quandary by providing automated tools to handle skill-based blending, the process still requires constant attention by a Real Time Analyst

Strategy 2: Threshold-Based Skill Blending

The Threshold-Based Skill Blending strategy takes the skill-based blending strategy and adds another dimension of protection that further enforces both inbound answering and outbound pacing and abandonment. With this strategy, the blended center will have dedicated agents assigned to inbound channels and dedicated agents assigned to outbound. In the middle will be two pools of agents that have both inbound and outbound skills. One pool will have inbound skills at a higher priority and outbound skills at a lower priority, the other pool with be the opposite, with outbound skills at a higher priority and inbound at a lower priority.

Calls will be offered to the inbound blend team only if all dedicated inbound agents are busy. If the dedicated inbound agents are idle, then the dialer will offer them an outbound call. Because this dedicated team is not part of the main outbound only group or the outbound blend group, they are not typically figured into the pacing for the predictive algorithms by most dialers. Inbound calls will be offered to the outbound blend team only when all inbound agents and all inbound blend agents are occupied with calls. At all other times this pool will be offered outbound calls. Through this practice, the inbound service level - and the outbound abandonment - have a modicum of protection because the dialer will see that fewer agents are available and will have more time to react to an inbound call spike, and adjust its pacing accordingly.

There is a twist on this strategy that can be applied here, however it is application-dependent. Some dialer vendors have built in an additional tool that will assist with blending management. These vendors have added a module that will monitor inbound answering; if inbound answering thresholds are breached it will automatically slow the pacing of the dialer and allocate more blended agents to inbound answering in order to bring the answering threshold back in line with targets. It is important to note that just as it is with Skill Based Blending, an attentive Real Time Analyst is also required in addition to the automated dialer to ensure that both inbound and outbound caller experience metrics are maintained.

Service Level Control

One of the realities of inbound call centers is that an 80/20 service level average by definition means that you are going to have intervals that are below your answering targets. To compensate for that, and to hit the overall daily target of 80/20, it is not uncommon for an inbound call center to occasionally run “hot” with high answering of 85/20 or 90/20 for several intervals. This will occur especially if the service level dip was extensive and protracted. In a blended inbound/outbound call center, running hot means that you are losing outbound productivity. For this reason, it is important to also look at your call center’s Service Level Control or SLC metric.

SLC sets an upper and lower threshold that answering in an inbound environment needs to maintain. The center is then measured on the number of intervals that it achieves within that threshold. A typical target is 60% of intervals within a 75/20 to 85/20 answering thresholds. In this way, the blended call center is measured on its ability to maintain both caller experience metrics for inbound as well as manage outbound productivity.

Blended and Outbound Call Centers Series: Managing the Customer Experience
Blended and Outbound Call Centers Series: Capacity Planning for Outbound and Blended Centers